May 26, 2006

2006 Vacation/Travel Supplement

A week in Paris: French museums, cathedrals and landmarks capture the imagination

By Joan M. Wyand
Special to The Criterion

PARIS, FRANCE—When I bought a plane ticket for a business trip to Kenya earlier this year, I decided to spend a week in Paris in February on my way home to Providence, Rhode Island. (See related story on pages 14 and 15.)

An inexpensive commuter train from Charles de Gaulle International Airport into the city passes by a colorful selection of tasteful graffiti.

Purchasing a weeklong subway pass is the most efficient and economical transportation in Paris.

I stayed at an affordable, English-speaking hostel called The Three Ducks, and shared a small, six-bed room and bathroom with alternating roommates. The bar area had a lock box, Wi-fi connection and constant stream of interesting travelers.

I stayed in the cheapest accommodations, but there are many charming French hotels that run about $80 a night. My older brother, J.P. Wyand of Indianapolis, joined me in Paris and chose to stay at a nearby hotel during his vacation.

During the week, I traversed various areas of the city, observing the eclectic architectural facades and visiting a variety of Parisian attractions.

The Louvre is a grand architectural complex that developed over 700 years. This famous museum is filled with detailed paintings, sculptures and interior décors from around the world, including Leonardo da Vinci’s renowned portrait of “Mona Lisa.”

Da Vinci used a perspective point that is off the canvas, which is why her eyes follow the viewer around the room. The painting was revolutionary for its time because the fictional landscape changes from a forested lake on the left side of her head to a steep mountainside on the right.

In the 19th century, Napoleon III built an extravagant wing in the Louvre with tall ceilings, brightly colored upholsteries and an over-all glimmering of gold leaf.

The Musee d’Orsay is another classic museum that showcases a wide range of artwork from the 19th century. Once a turn-of-the-century train station, the main room in the museum has a tall arched ceiling with a multileveled marble floor. Large bronze sculptures decorate two terraces that lead into rooms with Impressionist paintings, Realist paintings and Art Nouveau interior designs.

The Centre Pompidou was built in 1974 and holds the National Modern Art Museum, Paris’ largest research library, a cinema for video arts, a lecture hall, and an amazing art and theory bookstore.

I saw an exhibit there called “The Big Bang,” which examines the dynamic and sometimes controversial spectrum of modern art, including Salvador Dali’s fantastical landscapes, Piet Mondrian’s minimal geometric compositions and Alberto Giacometti’s elongated bronze figures.

The Picasso Museum showcases Pablo’s stylistic development through his revolutionary paintings, ceramics, sculpture and drawings.

Notre-Dame de Paris is an intricate architectural masterpiece built on an island block in the center of the city along the Seine River.

I sat for about two hours at the Notre Dame piazza, sketching the cathedral and watching the steady flow of tourists. Later, I walked along the river path that dramatically changes style and width between each bridge.

My favorite church in Paris, the Basilica du Sacré Coeur, rests on a tall hill above Pigalle. Tourists pass large sections of green lawn as they climb the wide marble stairs toward the triple-domed structure. Inside, visitors are welcome to sit in this peaceful space or quietly walk the loop that leads through the ornate basilica.

The Catacombs is an intriguing network of old quarries that were filled with skeletal remains in 1785 due to over-crowding in the Innocents Cemetery in Paris. Priests transported the femurs, skulls and tibias at night, and stacked them precisely to create decorative walls.

Visitors will enter the Catacombs by Denfert-Rochereau, travel through the depths of the city and emerge near la Place de la Bastille, where the Colonne de Juillet marks the former site of the infamous prison stormed by the mob in 1789 at the start of the French Revolution. Stones from the Bastille’s foundation are visible in the subway station underneath the square.

The Opera Bastille was built near the memorial in 1990.

Another interesting underground tour is the Egouts or sewers. A guide will lead you through the old sewers of Paris and explain the evolution of the city’s waste disposal system through various visual aids.

On a clear day, from the top deck of the Eiffel Tower, visitors will see the panorama of Paris. An elevator built inside a leg of the 984-foot-tall tower stops at three observation levels. Inside the first and second levels are restaurants and gift shops.

The world-famous landmark gracing the southern bank of the Seine River was designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, a French engineer who created it for the Paris Exhibition of 1889. The tower is also beautiful at night, when lighting gives it a golden glow visible for miles.

The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel is a powerful monument dominating the center of a speedy roundabout at the end of the Avenue des Champ-Elysees.

French architects Percier and Fontaine built it from 1806 to 1808 to resemble the Arch of Constantine in Rome so Napoleon I could commemorate his military victories.

There are many famous things to see and experience in Paris, but don’t miss out on the details that are not highlighted in travel books.

Some of my most memorable experiences in Paris were due to situations that I stumbled upon spontaneously.

The city is filled with intriguing back alleys that lead to small fountains, hidden restaurants, interesting characters, public art and foreign adventures.

(Joan Wyand is a 2001 graduate of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis and 2005 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. She is an artist.)


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